Deadly monsoon flooding and landslides lash India
By Sameer Yasir and Hari Kumar
A weekend of heavy rains and flooding has left destruction across large swaths of northern India, killing at least 23 people and causing landslides and flash floods that washed away bridges and buildings, officials said.
Most of the deaths over the weekend appear to have been in the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh, which received more than 10 times its average rainfall for this time of year. The wreckage stemming from the deluge forced authorities there to shut down schools and advise residents to leave their homes only if necessary. Dozens of people in total have been killed in the state since the monsoon season began in June.
Torrential rain continued to lash many states Monday afternoon, including the capital region of Delhi, where roads in several areas were submerged in knee-deep water and court hearings had to be suspended or shifted online, away from flooded courthouses.
In recent years, India has often experienced extreme weather patterns, including record heat waves and heavy floods in monsoon season. In the case of the floods, in addition to the strain on everyday Indians, farmers have complained about the devastating effect on crops as the rains have become more unpredictable and damaging.
R.K. Jenamani, who works for the India Meteorological Department in New Delhi, said the confluence of cyclonic storms called western disturbances with the monsoon season was behind the current downpour, the heaviest in decades. More rain across large parts of northern India is forecast for the coming days.
“The rainfall is several times more than normal,” Jenamani said. “For example, in Himachal Pradesh, the normal rainfall would have been around 8 millimeters, but it was 103.4 millimeters on Sunday.” (Eight millimeters is about one-third of an inch; 103.4 millimeters is about 4 inches.)
Video footage from Himachal Pradesh, a popular tourist destination, showed flash floods washing away homes, and rescue workers struggling to bring trapped people to safety. Jagat Singh Negi, horticulture minister in the state, said at least 20 people had died in rain-related incidents there over the past two days, making a total of more than 70 who had been killed since June 24 after floods engulfed entire villages, causing landslides and blocking hundreds of roads.
Some of the heaviest rainfall in decades also struck the Delhi region, according to the India Meteorological Department. The rains flooded homes and streets, killing at least three people, Delhi fire department officials said.
Government workers used pumps in many areas to drain water from streets, with residents wading through knee-deep water. Delhi received 153 millimeters (6 inches) of rain Sunday, the highest precipitation in a single day in July in 40 years, the meteorological department said.
In the state of Punjab, the Indian government deployed hundreds of troops to help prevent the breach of swollen water channels and to help rescue about 2,000 students stranded at a university. Streets remained under water, and in many locations, residents used ropes to cross from one side of the road to the other.
The monsoon’s arrival in northern India in recent years has increasingly left damage and fatalities. But the effects of climate change have rarely seemed so stark as they were over the weekend in some areas straddling the towering Himalayan range, which stretches for 1,500 miles across Asia, from Pakistan to Bhutan.
Some regions in India, including the desert of Ladakh and around the nearby city of Kargil, received 3 inches of unseasonal snowfall. Residents said they had never before seen snow in the month of July.
On Monday, the heavy rainfall continued in some states as local authorities issued alerts asking residents to stay inside their homes.
Atishi Marlena, a minister in the Delhi government, said that the Yamuna River, a tributary of the Ganges that runs through New Delhi, was expected to reach a dangerous level and that the government was stationing rescue boats in areas closer to the waterway.
“Public announcements for people living in flood plains have started,” she added.
Among the infrastructure damaged by heavy rains and landslides were highways and bridges in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Jammu and Kashmir that were built to help lift millions of people in remote districts out of poverty. Most of that destruction was in Himachal Pradesh, where entire stretches of roads have been destroyed and dozens of buildings have collapsed and been washed away by flash floods.
Negi said the level of damage caused by the rainfall in some areas of his state was terrifying and unprecedented, adding that it would take time to fully assess.
“It is very scary,” he said in a phone call. “But we are trying everything to keep people safe.”